Cities are transformed through the imaginations of people seeing what their communities can become. Cities are also transformed through the moral imaginations of people seeing clearly how their communities are in the present.
Visionaries peering into the future imagine expanded skylines, glittering downtowns, state-of-the-art stadiums, new businesses and the fusion of human capital and technologies, which earn cities the titles of “great,” “modern,” and “world-class.”
The Basin was essential and a springboard for the city’s economic growth, but it did nothing to protect the West Side from floods whose muddy waters, for decades, would continue to overflow ditches and rush through its neighborhoods, often claiming more lives. These floods and the lack of drainage they highlighted led to the 1974 founding of Communities Organized for Public Service (known as COPS) by the master community organizer Ernesto Cortes, a son of the West Side.
Believing in the natural leadership in neighborhoods and churches, the organization (now COPS/Metro ) was made up of more than two dozen parishes in which people, no matter their income or education, learned they could be sources of light to illuminate and find solutions to their problems.
Armed with passion, knowledge of the issues and a newly developed fearlessness in confronting city and corporate leaders, they discovered an ability to correct inequities such as bonds being approved for West Side drainage projects but never spent on those projects.
[Photo Credit: San Antonio Express News]
Incumbents Who Participated in COPS/Metro Accountability Assembly Win Re-election. Non-Incumbent Candidates Advance to Runoff
Rick Casey: A Very Strange Election in San Antonio, San Antonio Report
Back in 1992, she was an organizer for COPS/Metro Alliance when the powerful community organization designed and persuaded the City to financially back Project Quest, which early on and to this day has been recognized as one of the most successful job training programs in the country. In 2011, when Project Quest was plagued with controversy from failings due not to corruption but to incompetence, Sister Pearl was brought in to turn it around. She did and ran the organization for six years.
Now the City of San Antonio is embarking on SA: Ready to Work, a program approved by the voters last November that will spend $154 million over five or six years in an effort to train the city’s working poor for good-paying jobs that the city is now generating.
[Photo Credit: Nick Wagner/San Antonio Report]
While we desperately need immediate relief, we must also seek long-term systemic change.
As faith leaders, we have a responsibility to cry out for the vulnerable and seek the common good, and this means the reform of a utility system that has served as a means for profit, putting profit before people.
Last week, The Network of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations with interfaith leaders from across the state held a press conference, urging the governor and legislature to take responsibility and put people before profits. It is time to direct recovery resources and restructure utility oversight to protect all, especially the poorer residents already on the edge because of the pandemic.
Leaders from the Southside Independent School District and COPS/Metro announced their new working relationship at a Dec. 3 physically distanced press conference.
Together they plan a listening tour, including monthly gatherings where district officials can get direct input from learners, their families and other residents about local educational needs.
There also would be what COPS/Metro calls “civic academies” as part of the collaboration.
Estela Sanchez, a COPS/Metro organizer and SISD mother, said she looks forward to partnering with the district to empower other parents, getting them and neighbors more involved in school-community initiatives.
Another COPS/Metro member and SISD mom, Montserrat Amador, said the importance of education can’t be stressed enough.
“Just a year ago, I was not allowed to enter the school premises for not having an American ID. Today, I am where the decisions are made and I will work with the district’s administration and Superintendent Ramirez to improve the quality of education of my children,” Amador said.
She added, “We don’t have to conform with the minimum. Our children from the South Side deserve the same education as children in the North (Side) of San Antonio.”
[Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo]
Beatrice Gallego has spent her life advocating for the communities that San Antonio city leaders often neglect. As a parent volunteer, a devoted parishioner at St. James Catholic church, and the second President of the Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), Gallego has fought for Westside neighborhoods to get the resources they deserve.
Beatrice was born in San Antonio on October 21, 1934. Her parents were Andres Saldívar and Josefa Cuellar. She was the youngest of seven children. As a child she wanted to be a nun, but that changed when she met her future husband. On August 28, 1955 she married Gilbert Gallego, a hardware salesman. They live in the Palm Heights neighborhood at 902 W. Winnipeg and raised three children. Beatrice became active in her community very early, serving as a PTA leader, a Head Start volunteer and working at the St. James Catholic church on Theo Avenue.
In 1974, an organization that would eventually be named the Citizens Organized for Public Service (COPS) began to form in San Antonio, led by community organizer Ernesto Cortes, a Westside native who had been trained at Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation in Chicago, and Father Edmundo Rodriguez of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. Cortes was looking for natural community leaders, and he heard about Gallego. He had to make seventeen phone calls before Gallego would meet with him....
In 1977 she became the second president of COPS, and led several successful efforts....
[Photo Credit: Museo del Westside]
Ayala: Museo's Virtual Show in San Antonio Expands Definition of Activism and its History in San Antonio, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
Beatrice Gallego- Community Activist and COPS President, Museo del Westside
“That’s one heck of a bloated bureaucracy from the get-go,” said Sonia Rodriguez, a COPS/Metro leader who worked on Nirenberg’s Ready to Work campaign.
The city’s ideas drew fire from Rodriguez and others at COPS/Metro — a local grassroots advocacy group that actively promoted Nirenberg’s plan to use sales tax dollars over the next four years to prepare San Antonio workers for higher-paying jobs. The organization founded Project Quest, a workforce development program, more than 25 years ago.
COPS/Metro officials knew the city would have to create some apparatus to run the program, they said during an Express-News editorial board meeting Thursday — but not one as large as what the city is putting forward.
San Antonio already has organizations with experience in providing workforce development and “wraparound services” such as academic remediation, child care services and job placement, COPS/Metro leaders said. Therefore, there’s no need to build a brand new organization or look outside of the city for expertise.
“We’re saying that the city has resources available without going out to hire someone from the outside,” said Sister Jane Ann Slater, another COPS/Metro leader.
Instead, COPS/Metro officials said, the city should work with Alamo Colleges, Project Quest and existing organizations to bolster workforce development efforts. They have the skills to bring in applicants, educate and train them but need help in getting the graduates into jobs.
“This is the right time for residents and organizations to provide feedback on the administration of SA Ready to Work, and we value COPS/Metro’s input as we work toward the program’s summer 2021 implementation,” Nirenberg said.
COPS/Metro was a key player in pushing the workforce proposal.
For example, COPS/Metro targeted “low propensity” voters — typically younger, newly registered or infrequent voters — in 25 voting precincts to turn out for the measure.
'Bloated Bureaucracy': San Antonio Organizers Blast City Efforts to Enact Nirenberg's Workforce Plan, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
COPS/Metro Leverages 77% Support for 'SA Ready to Work,' Calls for Full Accountability in Implementation
On Nov. 3, 77 percent of San Antonio voters approved Proposition B, Ready to Work SA, and 73 percent approved Proposition A, Pre-K for SA. These outcomes clearly indicate San Antonio’s desire to invest in its most important resource, its people.
COPS/Metro and our sister organizations in the [Texas] Industrial Areas Foundation, or IAF, made it possible for both to be on the ballot by authoring the state’s Better Jobs Act in 2001. This law allows cities to invest sales tax dollars in early childhood education and job training. Passing Ready to Work SA is the latest in a series of victories in COPS/Metro’s decades-long strategy to invest in human development. Others include the creation of Project QUEST, Palo Alto College and the San Antonio Education Partnership.
COPS/Metro created a program that blossomed into a nationally recognized model because of its extraordinary results for its participants. We named it Project QUEST.
The wraparound services, tutoring and counseling provided for every single participant produced remarkable results. On average, 90 percent of Project QUEST participants graduate and are placed in higher paying jobs with benefits.
COPS/Metro’s leaders delivered more than 50,000 voters in support of Ready to Work SA because we believe in investing in people. This commitment has propelled the city of San Antonio into a national leadership role for COVID-19 recovery.
[Photo Credit: Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News]
Commentary: Accountability Key to Workforce Program, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
A trio of sales tax measures to train San Antonio workers for new jobs, expand public transit and renew the city’s early childhood education program were passing by an overwhelming margin with a majority of the vote counted Tuesday night.
The workforce and VIA ballot measures had little organized opposition while the forces in favor had the backing of business leaders, heads of chambers of commerce and grassroots organization COPS/Metro. The two campaigns, plus the third to renew Pre-K 4 SA, spent more than $1.7 million to convince voters to pass all three measures.
The workforce proposal was COPS/Metro’s baby. The organization — which founded the workforce development program Project Quest more than 25 years ago — pushed City Council earlier this year to pump $75 million into workforce development as part of a $191 stimulus package and later put their weight behind the ballot measure.
On Wednesday night, COPS/Metro leaders felt vindicated — though they recognized the win likely wouldn’t have happened without the suffering and heavy toll wrought by the pandemic.
Sister Jane Ann Slater and Cathy McCoy, organizers with COPS/Metro Alliance, attended the small SA Ready to Work election night watch party at Augie’s Barbed Wire Smokehouse with Nirenberg. They saw the voters’ support as validation of the work done by Project Quest, a workforce development program founded by COPS/Metro that will serve as the model for the larger program.
To gain support for the ballot measure, the grassroots organization made a concerted effort to reach voters who may not have normally voted on local propositions – or at all, McCoy said.
“It was an educational process, I think,” Slater said. “We reached voters” by phone and in person.
[Photo Credit: Tom Reel/San Antonio Express-News]
San Antonio Voters Approve Ballot Measures for Workforce Development, Transit & Pre-K, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
San Antonio Voters Give Thumbs-up to Workforce, Pre-K, and Transportation Ballot Measures, San Antonio Report [pdf]
Proponents of a local ballot measure that would set up a pandemic-relief job retraining program are making a last-minute push to ensure it's not lost as voters go to the polls for the high-stakes presidential election.
Proposition B, dubbed SA Ready To Work, calls for redirecting $154 million in sales tax revenue from aquifer protection and into retraining 40,000 workers who lost their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Proponents argue the program, which includes stipends and daycare, would allow the Alamo City to remake what's long been a low-wage, tourism-driven economy.
"These were people who, before the pandemic, were working jobs that weren't very high paying and often didn't have benefits," said San Antonio Councilwoman Adrianna Rocha Garcia. "Very often, they were working multiple jobs to make ends meet."
Proponents Make Last Minute Case for Proposition B, San Antonio's Job Training Measure, San Antonio Current [pdf]